Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Egan Changes Pace on 'Manhattan Beach' [Corrected 10/08/17]

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Egan Changes Pace on 'Manhattan Beach' [Corrected 10/08/17]

Article excerpt


World War II, its hardships and its heroism continue to exert a nostalgic pull on the American imagination. It was a time when women found themselves subject to opportunities that were previously denied, even as families struggled to stay afloat and racketeers took advantage of wartime circumstances to bolster their fortunes.

In her new novel, "Manhattan Beach," Jennifer Egan focuses on three characters whose destinies become intertwined, starting in Brooklyn during the Great Depression. Egan's latest work is an intriguing departure from her 2010 book, "A Visit From the Goon Squad," which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. That book had a hip sensibility informed by its characters, among them a former punk rocker grappling with fears of selling out and a scrappy young woman with a faulty moral compass.

In contrast, "Manhattan Beach" finds Egan embracing the aesthetic of the historical novel, delivering a story of Dickensian ambition that benefits mightily from her meticulous attention to detail and her rich, evocative language. The story revolves around Anna Kerrigan, an independent young woman who's ahead of her time; her father, Eddie, a working man who becomes involved with the criminal underworld in order to survive; and one of its habitus, Dexter Styles, who lives a double life as an upper-crust nightclub owner and small-time gangster.

Shifting back and forth between the perspectives of Anna, Eddie and Dexter, Egan creates a kaleidoscopic portrait of a pre-internet era in which radios represented the height of technology and keeping one's neighbors at arm's length would have been considered impolite. And she brings to the story a gift for cinematic imagery, as in this description of Anna taking a break from her job at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where hundreds of women support the war effort:

"She synchronized her wristwatch with the large wall clock they all answered to, and stepped outdoors. After the sealed hush of her shop, the roar of Yard noise always shocked her: crane and truck and train engines; the caterwaul of steel being cut and chipped in the nearby structural shop; men hollering to be heard."

Anna has a position measuring machine parts, but she aspires to be a ship-repair diver a job for which women are deemed to be unsuitable. …

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